Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gimme that old slime and religion

By Capt. Fogg

The Republican circus' Big Top is beginning to fill with snarling dogs, rooting hogs and booming frogs fighting to get into the center ring -- the kind of things once relegated to side shows so as not to frighten young children and more 'sensitive' viewers.

Rick Perry is, as I write this, now announcing his candidacy from the State of South Carolina, where the First Civil War started with the booming of cannons 150 years ago. The Cold Civil War is heating up and so is the rhetoric. Rhetoric just as emotional and just as full of vain invocations of the common divinity. "It's time to get America working again" he says as though his party hadn't presided in ZERO job growth in the eight Republican years and as though we haven't had significant job growth since. Has Perry suggested anything positive or anything other than blind faith in what got us into this mess? Remember he's the guy who thinks the climate responds better to prayer than to carbon dioxide levels. So far it's still not raining in Texas.

Not all the candidates, however, are quite so willing to engage in such a pitched battle on an even field. All the likely female contestants for instance -- like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich seem to prefer to come out slapping and eye gouging but should anyone be so unfair as to ask such inappropriate, unfair "Gotcha" questions as "which newspapers do you read" or just what Mrs. Bachman meant when she said:
"But the Lord said, 'Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.' "

Perhaps since she wears her religion, not only on her sleeve and on her shield like a crusader, but constantly suggests the superiority it gives her along with the right to make peremptory statements about how the rest of us live our lives, it's an appropriate question. It's the same Question President Carter asked of the Southern Baptist Church and not liking the answer, quit the church in which he was raised and spent his life. She'd have us believe she only meant "respect" contrary to the literal word she's so eager to worship. But she didn't say respect, now did she? Nor did the word of God she thinks she's quoting.

Suggesting both that it's offensively inappropriate for anyone to ask clarification of Bachmann and that her explanation would be far too nuanced for us heathen to understand, we have Roland Martin writing on today.

Martin tells us she was asked by Byron York:
"As president, would you be submissive to your husband?"
Forgetting the "Billary" gambit directed against Bill Clinton, Childe Roland hesitates not a bit to be offended on behalf of Biblical literalists and for the shy, sensitive and ever-so-subtly nuanced Bachmann who brought the subject up in the first place.

I don't know how old Roland Martin is; whether he remembers the Republicans' question as to whether John Kennedy would obey the Pope instead of the Constitution or whether like the other hand-waving, special pleading, smoke and mirrors artists he can only take refuge in fog shrouded ineffability when someone asks a damned good question he wouldn't hesitate to ask of others.

It's a question asked only because she's a woman, asserts Martin rather tautologically. After all, men aren't ordered to obey their wives in the old books some people confuse with the US Constitution. Apparently he thinks men aren't even asked similar questions about the conflict between their beliefs about the the legitimacy of government, their credos and their ability to administer secular laws in a secular country they may disapprove of.

He's quite wrong of course. These questions are asked and not just by me -- and they are important questions to ask of a party that is insisting in ever louder voices that secularism is a problem and that the country rightly belongs only to those with suitable church affiliations.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Scarborough's rant on Bachmann and why he's (partly) wrong

Joe Scarborough went off Friday morning on the idea that Michele Bachmann should be considered a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination or for the whole ball of wax itself.

We are talking here about a guy who is a staunch Republican, a former member of the House of Representatives, venting about how disgusted he is that Bachmann is being taken so seriously by members of his own party in the early going.

In discussing her performance during Thursday night's Iowa debates, Scarborough had this to say:
Michele Bachmann's first answer was, I wish the federal government had defaulted. Had defaulted! A week after Americans lost -- some of them perhaps half their pensions. Lost half their 401ks. When trillions of dollars went down the drain with Americans suffering, she said that and got applause, and if anybody thinks that guys like my dad are going to be voting that way... they are out of their minds and they are too stupid to prognosticate, they are too stupid to run a Slurpee machine in Des Moines... Michele Bachmann is a joke. She is a joke. Her answer is a joke. Her candidacy is a joke...Iowa, if you let her win, you prove your irrelevance once again.

Okay, that's all very interesting that Morning Joe would go ballistic in this way on one of his party's own. Here is what is more interesting:

He also said that Bachmann was symbolic of a kind of presidential "conspiracy" that always happens in the early stages of presidential elections, where the base pushes for "somebody who is never going to win." And, he continued, the media "run articles on these people on the far right and point for a year about 'look how whacked out the Republican Party is."
But as much as I agree that it is unlikely Bachmann will even get the GOP nomination, let alone come close to winning the presidency, is this really just like other years? Isn't it actually the case that all of the Republican candidates are tripping over each other to prove how crazy, how extreme, they can be and that Bachmann is simply doing a better job of it?

The Democrats best hope is that by the time Romney is the nominee, the debate amongst Republicans will have for so long taken place in crazy-town that there won't be any way to recover - that Romney will have lost the ability to appear sane enough to independent voters - maybe even to a lot of voters in his own party.

Republicans like Scarborough are hoping against hope that this year will be like other years and that by the time things get serious the party will be able to do enough of a course correction to win the White House - that the GOP will be able to distance itself from its more radical elements.

I think Scarborough's anger and frustration is built on the fear that what should be a good chance for the Republicans is being squandered but that we've sort of seen this movie before and things could still work out for the GOP.

But is Joe really being honest with himself?

Yes, Michele Bachmann is an embarrassment to any thinking Republican, but long after she is gone, her impact, and the impact of the Tea Party, will be felt. The very nature of the debate from the right has, by now, been set in stone.

There is no going back and this is not like other years.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Previewing the 2011-12 English Premier League season

By Robert Lawson, International Sports Reporter

(Ed. note: What's past is prologue, as the good bard said. For Robert's recap of the 2010-11 season, see here. As for his preview, it's tough not to see Arsenal near the top, as I've been a life-long Gunners supporter, but, then, I suspect he's right that they'll prove to be something of a disappointment this year, not least because they're just now retooling for the post-Fabregas era. -- MJWS) 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. With the exception of matches cancelled in the aftermath of riots that spread throughout England over the last week, the 2011-12 English Premier League is set to begin on Saturday and, though it pains me severely to admit it, it is a near certainty that Manchester United will be champions once again. 

Manchester United to Repeat as Champions

Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, and Paul Scholes have retired, and Wes Brown and John O'Shea, deemed surplus to requirements, were sold on to Sunderland, but United surely look even better coming into this season. Ashley Young will provide added depth on the wing and youngsters such as Tom Cleverly (who looked terrific in the second half of last weekend's Community Shield) and Danny Welbeck could force their way into the reckoning for places. The possibility of adding Wesley Sneijder into an attack that already includes the likes of Rooney, Berbatov, Nani, Young, and Javier Hernandez is a terrifying prospect for any back line in England.

The only possible concern for Sir Alex Ferguson is the distraction of winning in Europe but, truthfully, it's never been much of a bother before and it won't be now. Indeed, I fully expect United to make it to the semi-finals of the Champions League, at least, while coasting their way to a twentieth English title. 

Champions League Places

To be sure, Manchester City are building a squad capable of challenging their local rivals for the title. After picking up the F.A. Cup and finally qualifying for the Champions League with a third place finish last season, City went out and bought Sergio Agüero from Atlético Madrid for £38m and Gaël Clichy from Arsenal for £7m to strengthen an already formidable squad. While the future of want-away Argentine Carlos Tevez remains uncertain, it is hard to imagine Roberto Mancini not getting City into second place this season. But there's still some distance to go before they're champions.

Chelsea should finally see some return on the investment made last season in Fernando Torres. The hiring of former Porto boss André Villas-Boas is an unusually smart managerial decision by owner Roman Abramovich but this is for all intents and purposes the same team from last year. While I would expect Villas-Boas to extract more from this squad than Carlo Ancelotti did, third seems the limit and the likely destination.

Liverpool owner John W. Henry has sanctioned a massive outlay on players since Kenny Dalglish was appointed manager mid-way through last season with the expectation that it will result in a return to the Champions League this season. Fortunately for him and Liverpool's increasingly anxious supporters, I think King Kenny has done enough to satisfy the yearning at Anfield to be back among the top four. Adding Luis Suárez (recently named player of the tournament at the Copa América) and Andy Carroll in the January transfer window and then Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson this summer into a midfield already bursting at the seams with Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva, Alberto Aquilani, Maxi Rodriguez, Jay Spearing, and Steven Gerrard (still recovering from injury) is not enough to propel Liverpool into genuine contention for the title but it should see them to a reasonably comfortable fourth place finish. The back four has been a glaring weakness but adding left back José Enrique from Newcastle will help considerably. For what it's worth, Liverpool's competition this year will be much weakened Arsenal and Spurs, not the likes of United, City, and Chelsea. 

The Comfortable Middle

Spurs look to continue their drift out of the "big four" this season having brought in no new players. Indeed, manager Harry Redknapp is likely to spend most of his time and effort this season coddling want-away midfielder Luka Modric, whose head has been turned by neighbours Chelsea, and warding off would-be suitors from around Europe for Gareth Bale.

There seems to be no signs of Arsenal's dreadful finish in the second half of last season abating anytime soon. With Clichy already out the door, Niklas Bendtner half-way out and players already resigned to losing two of the club's best players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, the prospects of improvement seem grim. The signing of highly touted 17-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton may help down the road but seems unlikely to yield immediate dividends.

After the top six the quality in the English top flight drops off markedly. The likes of Everton and Aston Villa have once again failed to make the necessary investments to improve their squads.

Everton have once again merely consolidated but Villa's loss of Downing and Young, in particular, will limit the effectiveness of striker Darren Bent. Indeed, Villa seems headed for another frustrating season where goals are hard to come by. The purchase of Charles N'Zogbia from Wigan will help but it's difficult to imagine anything but a mid-table slog this season.

Sunderland, Fulham Stoke, and Bolton will once again provide a few hiccups for the Premier League's big boys but appear no closer to moving beyond their comfortably established mid-table status. 

The Relegation Candidates

Blackburn, Wigan, Newcastle, Wolves, and all three of the Premiership's promoted clubs (Queens Park Rangers (QPR), Norwich, and Swansea) will vie for survival this season.

Newcastle looks set to plummet into the relegation zone with a mass exodus of players over the last six months. Manager Alan Pardew has already lost Andy Carroll, captain Kevin Nolan, and José Enrique, and now has to figure out whether he can keep Joey Barton around. One wonders what he'll have left to work with when the season begins on Saturday.

Blackburn and Wigan, in particular, appear to be sinking like a stone and I could easily see one, if not both, relegated.

Wigan survived by the skin of their teeth last season but I can't fathom manager Roberto Martínez achieving the same outcome this time without N'Zogbia around any longer.

Blackburn are a total shambles on and off the pitch and survival for another season looks impossible to me.

All three promoted clubs have done little to nothing to improve the sides that got them out of the Championship (second division). Fortunately for them, with Blackburn and Wigan looking so abject in comparison, there's a golden opportunity for two of these clubs to avoid the immediate dispatch back down.

In the end, I think it will be Blackburn, Wigan, and Swansea relegated to the Championship when all is said and done. 

Summary of Predictions 

Champions: Manchester United.

Champions League: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

Relegation: Blackburn, Wigan, and Swansea.

F.A. Cup: Liverpool

League Cup: Manchester City

First Sacking: Steve Kean (Blackburn)


Photo 1: Wayne Rooney et al. celebrate for Manchester United. 

Photo 2: Manchester rivals Nemanja Vidić (United) and Mario Balotelli (City).

Photo 3: Three new Liverpool players -- Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, and Stewart Downing.

Photo 4: A displeased Arsène Wenger, Arsenal's manager.

Photo 5: Luka Modrić and Gareth Bale in happier times at Spurs.

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World comes to a halt as Republicans take to the stage in Iowa to debate future of humanity

Ah, yes, there was a Republican debate last night in Ames. Good times. Maybe if I weren't on vacation I would have cared. (I was too busy watching The Makioka Sisters -- a stunningly beautiful film.)

Or maybe not.

No, no, let me be serious for a moment.

Did last night's debate mean anything? Well, not as much as Saturday's straw poll -- which won't really mean anything either, though it will clarify both public and insider GOP perceptions and possibly even help separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say.

Not that we don't already know what's wheat and what's chaff.

Romney is wheat. He's the national frontrunner -- though doubts remain on the right (if not venomous opposition from conservatives and other Tea Party types, and he may have a fairly low support ceiling.

Bachmann is also wheat, or at least what passes for wheat these days in the GOP (and on the far right generally). She's a serious contender, craziness notwithstanding.

Other than that?

It's amusing to see Santorum and Gingrich try to convince us we should take them seriously. Do they take themselves seriously? Of course. Do they know they've become joke candidates without a hope of winning anything other than the political equivalent of a Razzie? Maybe -- if they're being honest with themselves, but one doubts either one is capable of such self-effacing honesty.

It's also amusing to see more of the Bachmann-Pawlenty spat. T-Paw, lagging far behind in the polls (not even doing well in Iowa, so close to his Minnesota home), is still so desperate for attention that he's taking the gloves off, as they say, hopeful of emerging as the compromise candidate (particularly liked by the Beltway punditocracy) between the establishmentarian, business-oriented Romney and whoever ends up leading the charge from the radical right, either Bachmann or Perry (or both). Yes, I suppose he still has a shot. Yes, it's a long, long one. And he doesn't stand a chance against Bachmann in their little ongoing feud.

Pawlenty death watch: He'll "reassess" matters if he does poorly in Ames. Now there's a nice, lovely euphemism for "make up some self-aggrandizing excuses and get the hell out."

Perry life watch: It looks like he'll take the leap on Saturday. Not that he's trying to upstage the Ames straw poll or anything. No, of course not.

Cain? Yes, he took time out of his busy schedule scapegoating Muslims to grace us with his presence.

Paul? Hey, did you know he really hates government and much, much prefers the Hobbesian state of nature?

Huntsman? Oh, yes, Huntsman the Formidable, as I've dubbed him. He remains to me and impressive figure, an old-school, Reagan sort of conservative who in other, saner times would have been the clear GOP pick. Now? Not so much.

Wait, you want substance? Come on, you all know how it went. Obama is the satanic incarnation of anti-American evil. And taxes are bad, so very, very bad!

(But if you want some helpful fact-checking, check here. Needless to say, there was some fastness and looseness going on last night. What else is new?)

Besides, that spat is what seems to have gotten the most attention.

And, overall, it does now seem that civility in this Republican field is a thing of the past. As Slate's John Dickerson explained:

The debate had the makings of a serious discussion about leadership, what form it should take, whether the candidates have demonstrated it, and how it should be applied in Washington. However, this discussion took place in a roller derby where that underlying theme was obscured by people trying to bruise and batter each other. Criticisms and veiled critiques broke out into the open among candidates desperate to avoid being eliminated from consideration. In the end, there was a lot of arm flailing. Everyone went round and round, and the lot of them wound up where they had stood before the debate began.

Fight, fight, fight! Isn't that what we all crave -- what really gets us going? Who cares that the global economy is imploding or that our civilization is crumbling? Or that it's this right-wing ideology, so much on display last night, that is one of the main causes of our present (and future) crises?

Politics is a bloodsport.

And now, on that note, I'm going to go sit out on the deck and read (about something that has nothing to do with American politics circa 2011).


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The special election for Anthony Weiner's old seat

By Richard K. Barry

I don't know that many people are paying a lot of attention to the special election that will take place on September 13th for New York's 9th congressional district, but things are tighter there than they should be. 

This is the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner for conduct unbecoming a congressman. You remember.

To provide some context, Weiner held the seat from January of 1999 until his resignation in June of this year. He won seven terms, never receiving less than 59 percent of the vote. The seat was previously held by Democrat Chuck Shumer, who went on to run successfully for the U.S. Senate.

In a Siena poll conducted Aug. 3-8, Democratic candidate David Weprin is leading Republican Bob Turner by a 48 to 42 percent margin. With a 4.4 percent margin of error, that makes things close.

One interesting note here is that Joe Lieberman has endorsed Weprin, a move meant to counter former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's endorsement of Turner. In general, the media has been trying to characterize the special election in this heavily Jewish Brooklyn and Queens district as a referendum on President Obama's Israel policies, which Koch has characterized as not sufficiently pro-Israel.

In giving his endorsement in late July, Lieberman, a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, said:

While David Weprin can be counted on to fight for the safety and security of the State of Israel, we can also rely on him to protect the seniors and working families in Brooklyn and Queens.

Steve Greenberg, a pollster for Sienna, said what pollster always seem to say, which is that voter turnout will be key.

Which campaign will do a better job of identifying their voters and getting them to the polls [will be important] because, as we know, special elections tend to have low voter turnout. Probably fewer than 20 percent of the registered voters in the 9th congressional district will actually go to the polls and vote.

Turner is a retired media executive who ran unsuccessfully against Weiner in the general election last year.

Assemblyman Weprin is a former New York City councilman who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination to be comptroller in 2009.

Just what the Democrats need right now: A close race in an historically Democratic district.

Thanks, Anthony.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Balance's Mitt Romney problem

I started running recently after having been away from it for a few years. Not that this is very interesting to most people. But, as happens with a new pursuit, I began surfing the net for running products of one kind and another. In the process, I ran right into a post on the New Balance website with the title "New Balance Statement on Political Donation."

If you don't know, New Balance is a running shoe manufacturer and they have been around for as long as I can remember. I'm sure I've owned several pairs of their shoes in one style or another over the years.

The statement in question had to do with the fact that the company chairman, Jim Davis, made a $500,000 political contribution to something called "Restore Our Future," which is a Romney political action committee. This, it would appear, has created a problem for the company.

Here's their statement:
Dear New Balance associates, customers and consumers:

Earlier this year, a private donation was made by our chairman to a political action committee that is affiliated with Mitt Romney. First, let me be clear that this was a private donation and not a contribution from New Balance. We encourage civic engagement at all levels and will always respect the rights of any of our associates to engage in the political process as they see fit.

Mr. Romney recently signed a pledge that challenges same sex marriage and that has offended many including those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Mr. Romney's position on this issue is not reflective of Jim Davis', my or New Balance's position and support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community. As a company, New Balance embraces the differences in all people and we work tirelessly to create and sustain an environment where everyone - our associates, consumers, customers and guests are treated with dignity and respect.


Rob DeMartini

According to Huffington Post, the statement came after the website ran a petition demanding to know whether New Balance stood by the contribution made by the company's chairman. We should note that the website received over 2600 signatures before New Balance issued the statement. wrote that Romney signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage, which argued that:
LGBT families should be broken apart, that same-sex marriage should be banned in the U.S. Constitution, and that married couples in places like Washington, D.C. should have their relationships voided.

But it gets even worse (they say). When Mitt Romney signed the pledge, he agreed to - should he win the 2012 presidential race - appoint judges and an Attorney General supportive of banning same-sex marriage, and to appoint a presidential commission to investigate LGBT supporters.

What I find most interesting in all of this is how quickly New Balance went into damage control. Whether or not it is any indication, every single comment on their website at the time I first found it was from a customer claiming that they will never buy the company's products again.

I don't have an issue with the CEO of New Balance making a donation as a private citizen. Not much we can do about that. It is unfortunate, though, that big corporate money is polluting our political process more and more every day. It's a good thing we can still make decisions about where we spend our dollars and show our "civic engagement" in that way.

So, I hope advocates continue to do research that helps consumers better understand the character and values of the business people they might or might not choose to support.

And I understand that it cuts both ways, and I'm still okay with it.

It really does look like New Balance got caught out and that they are doing their best to spin a bad situation. I wonder if it will significantly effect their market share. I know I'll have no difficulty choosing from among the countless, non-New Balance, running products on store shelves.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Finally, Some Level-headed Thinking

By Carl
The riots in England don't appear to be racially-motivated or just young punks without jobs in a long hot summer...well, maybe a little of the latter:

The riots and fires consuming London are a story about senseless violence and crime. They are also a story about urban politics, race relations, education inequality, and British culture and society. But underneath all of that, they are part of an economic story that is universal.

For the last year, Great Britain has embraced austerity to a degree that would make some American conservatives blush. The purpose of shrinking government was to reduce debt. But the effect has been to kill the economy. With the UK tottering on the razor's edge of recession, consumer confidence is at a record low, unemployment is rising, and even the most optimistic economists predict one-percent expansion for the rest of the year.

The scourge of young restlessness growing in this noxious petri dish is potent enough to have a nickname. The British call them the NEETs, as in "Not in Education, Employment, or Training." Last year, British Employment Minister Chris Grayling called chronic youth unemployment a "ticking time bomb." That bomb is way past ticking.

Imagine you're twenty (and if you are, I envy you, and don't envy you, all at once). You're sat at home, watching the tube, and seeing news reports about corporation after corporation making money hand over fist. Banks and auto companies getting bailouts. Nations completely unrelated to your situation getting emergency loans from your country, among others, to tide them over.

And you wonder, "Why am I not getting some of that?" (or words to that effect)

You get a little angry. You go out to get some air and run into your mates. You walk downtown to the high street, and see the shops lined with fine jewelry, and computers, and phones, and you wonder when you'll ever be able to afford any of that. Sure, you'd love a job, you've looked hard but there just aren't any to be had. Companies aren't hiring. But they're pocketing gobs of money. Why? Why are corporations trying to tear the very fabric of life apart out of greed?

You head down to pub because you have a few quid in your pocket left over from the dole you got and carefully parceled out last week, and get a pint. The lads join you, one or two sipping your beer when you're not looking because they can't afford one themselves. The barkeep takes pity and buys a round for his loyal customers who are having a go at long term unemployment.

And the conversation turns to work. Or not work, rather. Someone, Ginger maybe, makes a joke about how Greece would be out of work if it lived in Brixton. You laugh, but you feel angry.

The anger swells as you boys take the piss on each other, have some fun, horse around, blow off some steam. It's late now, shops are closing. You slip out of pub and start heading home, crossing the high street again. The windows look so inviting. So very inviting.

A stranger, someone you've not seen around, staggers past, and stumbles into you. He mutters "'Scuse me," but your trigger just's been fired...

It's not hard to write the script of the riot. Sure, there was a killing involved, the macroeconomic version of the stranger bumping you, but in truth, it could have been anything. Another wave of layoffs. Another hacking scandal. Anything to remind people that we've become small cogs in a machine that grinds us up until it's time to replace us with a younger, faster model.

And those younger faster models have tempers.

There's a racial aspect of this, to be sure:

"Educated youth have been in the vanguard of rebellions against authority certainly since the French Revolution and in some cases even earlier," Jack A. Goldstone, a sociologist at George Mason University School of Public Policy, told journalist Peter Coy in February. If that's true, we are only in the first chapter of a worldwide rebellion against lost opportunities for the young. In North Africa and the Middle East, people aged 15-29 make up the largest share of the population ever. In Iran, they account for a third of the country. In Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, they make up 30 percent.

What about us? One in five Americans are between 15 and 29-years old. And one in five of those Americans are unemployed. For minorities and the under-educated, the picture is much worse. Black teenagers have an unemployment rate of 44 percent, twice the rate for white teens.

Minority populations tend to be undereducated, is the takeaway, which means underemployed, and underserviced by governments. That's just a fact. Civil unrest can start anywhere, but it usually starts with the educated (who know what's going on and start talking about it earlier) and moves onto the populace.

Ironically, crime has dropped since 2008 in the United States, but it would be premature to say we will be immune to the troubles in England (and soon, Spain, France and Italy). One big reason crime hasn't been an issue yet is Barack Obama and the youth vote he garnered. His presence in the White House has been a bulwark. People believe (perhaps wrongly, perhaps not) that he is sensitive to the needs of the young and unemployed.

It's not a matter of if, but when, we start seeing this kind of violence. And what triggers it? We're rounding the corner on summer, which has traditionally been when we've had violent outbursts, but give the markets a few more weeks of this nonsense and we may see it sooner rather than later.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Recapping the 2010-11 English Premier League season

By Robert Lawson, International Sports Reporter

Ed. note: As I noted in my introduction to Robert's introductory post last week, we'll be doing a bit more sports here at The Reaction -- some baseball and football in particular, but also international sports. (But without losing our focus on U.S. politics, which will only get more intense as we enter the crazy primary season this fall, with the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire soon upon us in the new year.)

Well, Robert knows his international sports, and here's his recap of the 2010-11 English Premier League season. His preview of the 2011-12 season, which starts on Saturday, will appear over the next few days. Stay tuned for that -- and then for posts throughout the season. I'm sure you'll like his stuff, on "football" and on so much else.

-- MJWS 


English football fans rejoice! In my first full post as International Sports Reporter, I'm going to recap last year's English Premier League season. This will help set the stage for my preview of the upcoming 2011-12 Premiership set to begin this weekend.

Last season, much to the chagrin of Liverpool supporters, Manchester United finally fulfilled Sir Alex Ferguson's long-standing vow to "[knock] Liverpool right off their fucking perch" by winning their nineteenth league title (Liverpool have won eighteen). Fortunately for the red half of Merseyside, United weren't able to move closer to the club's English record five European Cups, having lost in the Champions League final at Wembley to Barcelona in May (leaving them stuck on three).  

After a few years of exorbitant spending by Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group, Manchester City finally won a trophy (the F.A. Cup) and qualified for the Champions League, a benchmark that even the richest clubs must meet to attract the world's top players. Although talisman Carlos Tevez appears to be no longer willing to stomach another season in Manchester away from his family in Argentina, the Sheikh's seemingly bottomless bank vaults should ensure City's quest for the title will continue.

Much to the satisfaction of those of us who've grown weary of the English media's incessant fawning over Arsene Wenger's commitment to developing players from within and his insistence on playing "beautiful" football at all costs, Arsenal's continued to win nothing. Trophy-less though they may be, the Gunners did secure a Champions League place again (albeit in the play-off round), so I suppose that's some solace for the supporters.

Meanwhile, 2009-10 champions Chelsea, despite buying Fernando Torres for £50 million from Liverpool in January, surprisingly failed to win a trophy for the first time since 2007-08, though they, too, secured a Champions League place with a second-place finish.

Tottenham's time in the Champions League places proved ephemeral, though Spurs did manage to pip Liverpool for a spot in this year's Europa League competition. Last-minute addition Rafael van der Vaart, bought for £8 million at the end of the 2010 summer transfer window, was an immediate success and seems to have resurrected his once-promising career at White Hart Lane. (I suppose these two sentences point in the direction of an imminent departure.)

As for the club close to my heart, Liverpool withstood a tumult of turmoil over the course of the first half of the season (during which they were, at times, barely above the relegation zone) and managed to finish sixth. While perhaps disappointed with the lack of a European place and the mid-season departure of Torres, the second half of the season offered ample evidence for supporters to feel optimistic going forward. Off the pitch, the club's longstanding ownership difficulties were finally settled with the purchase of the club by Fenway Sports Group, led by Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry. On the pitch, legendary player/manager "King" Kenny Dalglish returned to manage the club after Roy Hodgson was sacked in early January and forwards Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were brought in to fill the void left by Torres. (Suarez, in particular, was one of the best players in England over the last half of the season.)

Fellow Merseysiders Everton once again managed to be a thorn in the side of many top clubs yet still failed to find their way out of the mid-table mire, finishing seventh. As difficult as it is to admit for a Liverpool supporter, David Moyes has done an outstanding job during his tenure as manager of the self-proclaimed "People's Club" given the paltry level of investment in the squad. One does wonder though how much longer he's willing to put up with the empty pockets routine before he gets fed up and chases a bigger opportunity.

Fellow mid-tablers Aston Villa finished... you guessed it, mid-table (ninth). They did break the bank though for striker Darren Bent from Sunderland with a successful £18 million bid in January. Bent scored nine goals during the second half of the season with Villa but it's hard to imagine him continuing that torrid pace now that he won't have Ashley Young or Stewart Downing putting balls into the box for him any longer.

2009-10 Football League Championship (second division) winners Newcastle and runners-up West Bromwich Albion both managed to stay up despite sacking managers mid-season, finishing twelfth and eleventh respectively.

Birmingham City followed up the euphoria of a League Cup win at Wembley in February with the ignominy of relegation in April. Joining the Brummies in the Championship this year will be Blackpool and West Ham.

Down in the The Championship, Queens Park Rangers and Norwich both won automatic promotion to the Premier League while Swansea returned to English football's top flight for the first time since 1983 with a play-off victory over Reading at Wembley. The Swans will be the first Welsh club to play in the Premier League since it was formed in 1992.

Will any of the Premier League's new clubs avoid the drop this season? Will Manchester United repeat as champions? Will Liverpool make it back into the top four? Will Arsene Wenger finally have to admit that Arsenal are failing not because of unfair refereeing but because they're simply not good enough? Will Everton win a match before Christmas? Will Newcastle have any players when the season starts? I'll let you know what I think later this week.

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Are Americans waking up to the fact that they don't like being held hostage by the GOP?

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released on Tuesday, just 33 percent of Americans approve of the Republican Party, while 59 percent disapprove.

That's a net negative 10-percentage-point shift from less than a month ago, when 41 percent of those surveyed by CNN said they had a favourable view of the GOP while 55 percent had an unfavourable one.

At the same time, Democrats' numbers have improved slightly, with approval and disapproval each at 47 percent. In July, 45 percent approved and 49 percent disapproved, a net 4-point change.

According to the survey, the Tea Party does even worse than the GOP with a score that is the lowest since CNN starting polling the movement in 2010. Thirty-one percent have a favourable view of the Tea Party while 51 percent see it unfavourably. In July, those numbers were 37 percent and 47 percent respectively.

The poll was conducted from August 5-7, which means that the questions were asked after the debt ceiling deal was concluded. Obviously that would have been top of mind with respondents.

One can read a lot into polls, but is it too much to suggest that more and more Americans are coming to the realization that they don't like intransigence in their political leaders? Is it possible that most Americans have more common sense than they are sometimes give them credit for, and that the need for compromise is something they value and respect?

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may think that it was smart to hold the economy hostage for the sake of narrow partisan goals. Let's hope this poll signals a change that will prove him wrong.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Damned if you don't

By Capt. Fogg

Even in the mean, scummy world of American presidential campaigns, there are few examples of behavior more scurrilous than the personal attacks on Barack Obama and his wife and children. Central to the defamation were the attacks on his religion, descriptions of which which ranged from radical Christian anti-white crusades to militant, anti-Christian Islam. Of course these attacks are ongoing and virulent even while such a potential candidate as Mitt Romney is feigning shock and dismay at what seems to be a largely non-existent attack against him and his Mormon affiliations.

In a lurid article at Politico, titled Obama Plan: destroy Romney, Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin try to convince us that the Obama campaign staff is planning unconscionable and personal attacks on Romney's religion and character.

Shocking, I know. That sort of thing never happens in America and Republican campaigns never, ever fabricate stories about the war records or terrorist affiliations or high crimes or foreign influences or membership in weird religious cults or even the citizenship of their opponents.

None the less, there was an anonymous source or two we must trust as well as we trust the journalistic integrity of Politico. It's just political reality, says the article. He can't campaign on accomplishments so he has to get dirty and therefore he's already dirty. Seems logical even if it isn't actually the truth, much less fair or balanced reporting.
"And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent."

No, he has little choice so he's already guilty of what we predict he will do: he'll be as bad as we Republicans. Those dirty Democrats want to go after Romney's poor record of getting rich while eliminating jobs as CEO of Bain Capital, for instance. They'd like to portray him as "weird" and personally awkward, and even stiff, perhaps like John Kerry was said to be by his GOP opponents. That's slashing for ya! And what about 'Romneycare' in Massachusetts?

Weird. It's a word used often by Obama campaign headquarters we're told. " there’s not a lot to like about Mitt Romney,” said Pete Giangreco who worked on Obama's 2008 campaign;
“There’s no way to hide this guy and hide his innate phoniness.”

Calling a candidate a phony just for being against what he used to be for? I mean how far below the belt will they punch? An "unidentified" source even suggested that Romney's personal awkwardness might turn off some voters -- outrageous!

"In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama’s high command has even studied former President George W. Bush’s 2004 takedown of Sen. John Kerry."
says Politico. I admit - I'm shuddering, but with laughter.

Of course the Romneyites are already calling Obama "disgraceful" for doing what he hasn't done but they predict he will do since they've backed him into a corner -- and their outrage is justifiable. What could be worse, from a Republican perspective, than Democrats doing what Republicans did? And not actually having done it is no excuse! What could be worse than interrupting the personal attack on Obama with an attack on Romney, even if the personal attack on Romney as a "weird" Mormon is a fabrication?

But perhaps here's the grounds for impeachment they've been looking for since the day the oath of office was administered (improperly, they say.) Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) told a Tea Party rally that impeachment "needs to happen" but when asked for the grounds, he had to dissemble since bribery, treason and such things are hard to substantiate in the absence of guilt. Hey, use your imagination, Mike. Just predict he will!

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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The "Good" News?

By Carl
OK, Good news/bad news time:
The good news: the Fed has promised to maintain a near-zero discount rate for funds banks borrow overnight until middle 2013 if the economy remains sluggish.
The bad news: the Fed has promised to maintain a near-zero discount rate for funds banks borrow overnight until middle 2013 if the economy remains sluggish?!
As futile, symbolic gestures go, this is a good one. The Fed had to do something to show it still had skin in the game, and by lifting uncertainty over whether every month we would see a rate hike, it accomplished that goal.
The markets responded appropriately. Or did they?
The initial instinct was to tank stocks. Then, as the punditry put it, the markets re-read the memo and somehow realized the import.
The initial instinct was the correct one. The second wave of buying which saw the market reverse losses yesterday and nearly make up the collapse from Monday, was merely some big money folks deciding the market needed some bolstering, some confidence building.
Why? Because there's money to be taken from the suckers yet.
I think the Fed blew it, big time yesterday, but I'm taking a macro-perspective. The Fed has a hammer and market collapses all look like nails to the Fed. Nail them down with low interest.
That low interest rate has been in place since Dec. 17, 2008. It hasn't exactly thrilled the markets, or coaxed banks into loosening up their lines of credit. Nor has it done much to keep the debt down, except to keep debt service from piling on faster.
Operative word there is "faster".
Similarly, the bond markets have manipulated by some heavy hitters, some intentionally, some just seeking a life vest in a stormy sea and watching the bond markets firm up, throwing their money there. This is how smart money becomes dumb money.
What the Fed did was the equivalent of handing us an umbrella in a hail storm. It will provide a moment's relief, buy us a little time to look around and think. The thing it will NOT do is provide anything close to long term shelter. Even a tin shed would have done that.
Here's what I'd like to see the Fed do in order to really give comfort and reassurance to the markets, and maybe even create a few jobs in the process.
Print. Money.
That's all they have to do. No quantitative easings, buying up short-term debts with long term debts. No releasing drips and drabs from the monetary reserves hoping an increase in the money supply will coax banks to lend (altho the time for that looks like it may be long past).
We need to trigger inflation. We need to force employers into the embarrassing position of hiring people simply because their profits have a predictable rise. Right now, companies are sitting on stacks of cash, waiting for the economy to collapse again. We simply prevent that by throwing money into the system. It's called "monetizing the debt," where the Fed simply snaps up public debt. No trades, no exchanges, no "easings." You retire the debt which is now cash money in the money supply.
Without getting too technical here, this will also be a boon for the average American who owes more money than he has: debts because less valuable to the lender, and can be paid back with "cheaper" money (if need be, I'll expand on this in comments, but for a really good explanation of the process, continue the link I just posted.)
In effect, it become a transfer of wealth from the banksters and the rich to the middle classes. It's essentially a tax increase.
There are problems, of course: anyone living on a fixed income from bonds will have to make adjustments, but if they are receiving Social Security, much of the shortfall would be made up with the cost of living adjustments inflation would trigger. And there is always a significant risk of long-term inflation because deficits are extensive and extensive. However, I think at this point, something is better than nothing, and it certainly doesn;t have to be the whole $14 trillion.
Just a trillion, maybe two or even three. That's our tin shed. Then we can get serious about reducing the deficit.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We really don't need any help understanding that Michele Bachmann is crazy

Wow, I agree with Michelle Malkin about something. The world may be coming to an end.

Well, it's actually Malkin's complaint that Newsweek used a "crazy eyes" picture of Michele Bachmann in a cover shot this week. And boy did they ever.

It's just such an easy thing to do and so unfair.

I once worked for a politician who refused to take part in pie-throwing contests (as the target) because he knew that the moment one hit his face the picture would be on the cover of multiple newspapers and maybe even end up on a piece of campaign literature for an opponent.

Politicians I've worked with also avoided wearing silly hats for the same kinds of reasons or even acting overly foolish in any context. It's sad, but that's the nature of the business.

But beyond that, lets face it, if you have a public profile, there will be countless pictures taken of you and some of them are going to be bad - really bad.

Much as I dislike Michele Bachmann, Newsweek botched this one. No politician deserves to have a picture appear on the front of a major news magazine that looks like they're auditioning for the part of an extra in a Vincent Price movie.

Tsk, tsk.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Michele Bachmann's failure to understand basic public finance

Dave Weigle at Slate ran an interesting piece recently about Michele Bachmann's understanding of government finance, or, we should say, her failure to understand it.

Here is Weigle's account of comments made by Bachmann at an event in Iowa:
When Bachmann arrived, she devoted half of her opening statement to the downgrade. The mesage: She could have stopped it.

"For the last two weeks, I led the fight against raising the debt limit," Bachmann said. Increasing the limit "pushed the rating agency over the edge." It was a $2.4 trillion blank check that caused the downgrade.

Make no mistake: The downgrade was Obama's fault: "We were somehow able to get through the Great Depression without a credit downgrade," she said. "Only under this president have we seen a credit downgrade... we are getting that credit rating back. This is to be our goal. That will be our mission.

Is it possible that Bachmann doesn't understand that the downgrade, however unjustified it may have been, occurred because S&P said they were concerned that the U.S. government could find itself unable to pay its bills? And that they might be unable to pay their bills precisely because the debt ceiling might not have been raised?

Is it possible she doesn't get that? And if the answer is yes, this suggests a whole new level of incompetence for this Tea Party darling, if that's possible.

This is on a par with the Wisconsin Tea Party cheering the fact that Democrats have blamed them for the S&P downgrade. In their simple understanding of the world, all we have to do is stop the government from spending money, even its current obligations, and everything will somehow, magically, work out.

I was not around when the United States devised its economic system. I'm pretty sure if I had been I would have suggested some improvements. But this is the system we now have, and I surely would prefer that anyone aspiring to the highest office in the land understand how it works.

It's not much to ask.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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